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Obama off to Russia to warm chilled ties

By Stuart Williams
Agence France-Presse
First Posted 16:37:00 07/05/2009

Filed Under: Diplomacy, Armed conflict, Nuclear Policies

MOSCOW ? United States President Barack Obama visits Russia Monday in the hope of finding agreements on military transit and weapons reductions to revive a relationship that last year plunged to a post Cold War low.

Obama is to hold several hours of meetings with President Dmitry Medvedev but his shorter breakfast encounter with Vladimir Putin Tuesday could yet be chilly after he remarked that the prime minister remained stuck in the past.

Both sides have vowed to press the "reset button" after Russia's war with Georgia last year capped a series of diplomatic rows. But potential tensions still remain, most notably on missile defense.

"I have no problem with the success of the summit -- the summit will be billed as a success," said Dmitry Trenin, director of the Carnegie Center in Moscow.

"The question is which way from the summit, whether the summit leads to a relationship that will gradually undo the real problems."

Russian officials have said Medvedev and Obama would sign a deal allowing the United States to transport military supplies for operations in Afghanistan across Russian territory.

Previously, Washington has only been allowed by Moscow to transport non-lethal supplies by rail. The new deal should allow the United States to transport military supplies across Russia by air.

The two countries are also set to sign a declaration setting up the framework for the renewal of the Cold War-era Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), which expires in early December.
But the Obama administration has yet to say whether it will implement a plan devised by his predecessor, George W. Bush, to install missile defense facilities in the Czech Republic and Poland which has infuriated Russia.

Moscow believes the missile shield is aimed against its territory but Washington has insisted it is designed to counter the threat posed by Iran.

Medvedev said in an interview with Italian media released Sunday that unlike the previous administration, Obama was prepared to discuss the issue. "We are completely capable of finding a sensible outcome," he said.

"Russia is not against such defence systems. But they should not be aimed against a very prominent nuclear country like Russia. We think such decisions put us in a difficult situation."
The shadow of the past was also underlined when Obama stated in an interview with The Associated Press that he believed "Putin has one foot in the old ways of doing business and one foot in the new."

By contrast, Obama said he had "a very good relationship" with the youthful Medvedev, prompting speculation he was seeking to divide Russia's hitherto tight ruling tandem.

In the run-up to the summit, Obama has also given an interview to the opposition Novaya Gazeta, the newspaper of the murdered journalist and scathing Putin critic Anna Politkovskaya, Russian news agencies reported.

Medvedev had earlier this year given an interview to the same newspaper, a move that some commentators said would have been unimaginable under the Putin presidency.

According to Russian media reports, up to 10,000 members of the security forces will line the route Obama's convoy takes when he travels from a Moscow airport to the city centre.

The president, his wife Michelle, and two daughters are to stay in a lavish suite at the Ritz Carlton hotel with views of Red Square.

Obama will be hoping for a smoother reception than on a 2005 visit to Russia when a coordination mix-up resulted in the then senator and his colleague Richard Lugar being detained for three hours at the airport in the Urals city of Perm.

His two-day visit will also see the US president meet Russian opposition leaders, civil society representatives and give a keynote address to a graduation ceremony at a top economics university.



Copyright 2014 Agence France-Presse. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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